The hottest names this week were ATUS (245bps better than the S&P), DISH (237bps), WWE (182bps), AMCX (92bps), and CBS (5bps).
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With CMCSA earnings coming up next week (1/23), we provide our thoughts on the numbers, sentiment and what to do with the stocks into the print. Please see the Full PDF link below for our detailed 30 page slide deck. OK
We think an SSP-COX deal makes the most sense. Recall that on 7/24, Cox Enterprises announced its intention to explore strategic options for its 14 TV stations in 10 markets. Our view at the time was that Cox understood its need for scale (Cox covers only 6% of the U.S. with the UHF discount) and is looking for a partner (i.e. GTN-Raycom) rather than the highest bidder. While the process initially involved just about every broadcaster in the space, there are 3 final bidders per press reports – SSP, TGNA & Hearst – looking to pay “almost $3B”, or 11x ‘18/’19 EBITDA per our ests. Based on our analysis, an SSP deal makes the most sense from a geographic/regulatory and an accretion standpoint (16% ‘18/’19 blended FCF/sh.) but we also ran the math for two additional scenarios: TGNA buys the whole thing (15% FCF accretive) or TGNA & Hearst team up to split the assets (12% FCF accretive to TGNA). CONFIRMATION SHOULD COME END OF JAN/EARLY FEB.
This note details our conversations with London investors, with the biggest surprises being: 1) The skepticism regrading New DIS – particularly the value of streaming vs. long-tailed content. That said, should uncertainties become more certain, this is the one most still want to buy. 2) The tremendous pushback on CMCSA – all because of Sky. And 3) the number of requests for our ATUS and OUT models (which must be positive signs, no?). PERHAPS THE BIGGEST TAKEAWAY IS HOW IMPORTANT MANAGEMENT TRANSPARENCY AND CREDIBILITY HAVE BECOME – above and beyond the numbers and the balance sheet.
Eric, Stephan, Se and I are reintroducing our WHAT’s HOT WHAT’s NOT weekly wrap up – this being our first edition from Wolfe Research.
We went straight from our launch (check out our 252-page slide deck – which was NOT an easy feat) to a whirlwind of marketing – hitting NYC, NYC (not a typo), Boston, the Mid-Atlantic, and more NYC. Ahead of us is CT, the West Coast, NYC (again, not a typo), and then Europe (Cheers!). The biggest surprises from our first set of meetings have been: 1) The fact that just about every conversation has begun with New DIS and New FOXA (there are way more bulls than bears). 2) There appears to be significant incremental interest in OUT and ATUS. 3) There appears to be significantly more concern re. CBS & VIAB. 4) No one has pushed back on our “downgrade” of DISH (Peer Perform). And 5) Local isn’t a huge focus due to macro and leverage. BOTTOM LINE: We feel incrementally positive on New DIS, New FOXA, CMCSA, ATUS and OUT; we are worried that our positive call on VIAB might take longer to play out.
SSP has definitely shown a change in strategy and then some – having just bought a relatively large station group (Cordillera – private company with 15 stations) for $521MM at an 7.2x buyer’s multiple and finally finding its way to profitability in the National segment. We really appreciate all that this company has done under Adam Symson – and the stock clearly reflects the recent transformation, +10% YTD vs. the S&P 500, +1% and vs. the rest of the broadcast peers, -2%. That said, we think it’s time for SSP to digest what it’s bought and perhaps go a turn lower when it comes to leverage. We just aren’t comfortable with SSP being levered at 4.9x when we are forecasting core advertising to be down LSD (-2.5% - for the entire space) for the foreseeable future. The one positive catalyst that could totally slap us in the face is if SSP successfully acquires Cox Television. We ran some M&A math (surprise, surprise), and while we think SSP would have the lowest synergies of the group, we actually get some really nice FCF accretion (+22%) – perhaps due to the law of small numbers (but still….) – and we don’t even have SSP needing to lever up above 5x (we assume 30% of equity issuance given the recently reported price of $2.6B and cash flow of $275MM. With so many other strategics looking at this asset combined with the fact we have been burnt by M&A so may times, we can’t make a bullish call here –but we do recognize there is likely a floor – just given the Cox possibility. Hence, we initiate SSP with a Peer Perform and a $20 price target.
We think AMCX is doing the absolute best it can with the assets it has. And it has been a good stock – relative to the rest of our sector(s) under coverage, +6% YTD vs. the S&P, +1%. But we’re not sure that the “as-long-as-it-isn’t-as-bad-as-expected-thestock-will-work” thesis is sustainable. We want to be clear – our call is that this stock is likely to underperform its peers next year, but we still get 16% upside from today’s price. It just isn’t enough for us to hang our hat on – we would love to see real momentum (or even stabilization) in the story from some of the really good content that AMCX has on its schedule (Better Call Saul, Preacher, Into The Badlands, The Son, Dietland, The Terror, Lodge 49, McMafia, etc.). But it still feels as if there is so much reliance on The Walking Dead (TWD) – just listen to the last earnings call or read the transcript. You know how many times TWD was mentioned in prepared remarks? We counted – it was 23. That’s way too many for me to survive a drinking game (although admittedly I am a total light weight so maybe I should say that is way too many for ERIC to survive a drinking game – he said he’s willing to find out). So relative to our expectation for its peers, we initiate on AMCX with an Underperform and $66 price target.